Practicing with Imagery
I repeat my fears until I’m bored to tears.
Even when you learn that your repetitive worries and habits are illogical, you may continue to obsess because your mind has been trained to react to certain trigger events. The way to “untrain” your mind is to intentionally expose yourself to the trigger event without trying to resist anxiety with rituals. Tension eventually lessens and the association of the trigger with obsessing is broken. Often, it is best to start exposure through imagery.
Obsessive thought —> Imagery practice —> Obsessing
Instead of waiting for distressing thoughts to pop into your mind, intentionally think them. This works for two reasons: (1) obsessions are reactions to a trigger; when you choose to have them, you increase your control over them; (2) avoiding things that distress you increases anxiety; if you feared the color purple and imagined sitting in a purple room, you would feel tremendous tension initially, but eventually it would pass. There are two ways to practice obsessing:
The following are examples of possible imagery scenarios:
If the thought of imagining your scenario terrifies you, work with a partner. Hearing your worries from someone else’s mouth or developing them to their “illogical” extension makes them seem absurd and can give immediate relief.
Method for imagery practice is adapted from Stop Obsessing! By Edna Foa and Reid Wilson (Bantam Books, 1991).